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Opinion

My 'Millennials' generation is busy reimagining a life of ethics

The Millennial Generation is less religious than either the boomers or even Gen-Xers were at our age. But don't be misled: Though we may go to church only on Christmas or celebrate Ramadan but skip the fasting, we are busily and earnestly engaged in reimagining the ethical life.

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But this increasingly online life is not without its perils. Dr. Katie Davis is collaborating with legendary educator Howard Gardner to study young people's ethics online. In a recently published article, she notes how difficult it is to monitor the many selves that individuals present online – and their many audiences.

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Some scholars, she explains, contend that "multiplicity, when taken too far, can pose risks to self and others if one's identities are not bound by an organizing influence."

As my generation's connection to the "organizing influence" of religion grows frayed, where do we look for guidance? For grace? How do we leverage all the incredible new tools for ethical action that the Internet provides without having our compass thrown off course by corrosive and fragmenting forces?

Religion, after all, has served as much more than just a primer on ethical ideas and actions. It has also been a source of spiritual growth, a construct within which people nurture the inner self and its relationship with the divine. It can be strangely hard to locate a definitive inner self among all the avatars in our lives these days, much less distinguish between salespeople and wisdom figures, self-help and wisdom, the shiny and the sacred.

Even if many Millennials don't identify with an organized religion, we still, at base, hunger for a spiritual source.

Which is all to say, not that the youngest Americans are lost, but that we are searching for new ways of understanding who we are, why we are on this Earth at this horribly unjust, incredibly promising time, and what we are meant to do about it. We're not reaching for the old maps, and doubt that they would work even if we did. Instead we've got a solid sense of direction and the reassuring knowledge that every generation before us also inherited a swiftly changing world that demanded ethical ingenuity and spiritual reinvention.

Courtney E. Martin is the author of the new book "Project Rebirth: Survival and the Strength of the Human Spirit from 9/11 Survivors" and of "Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists." Read more of her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.

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